Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
President and CEO, Missouri Community College Association
10 total, with a stint in St. Louis after undergrad before moving back here.
I oversee a small nonprofit association that provides advocacy, professional development, and collaboration on programs and services for all of Missouri’s community colleges. I manage a $2 million budget and work with a dozen community colleges across the entire state, the Missouri Department of Higher Education, Missouri Department of Economic Development, economic developers, and members of the business community.
When I was fresh out of college, I connected with a commercial developer in St. Louis named Michael Staenberg. He took an interest in my career and eventually helped open a door in government relations, a field I’d always had interest in pursuing. I spent four years with that government relations firm, and that experience has opened a number of other doors. Michael is known for serving as a mentor to young professionals in the St. Louis area. In the future, I see myself following this same path — I have an incredible appreciation for the support and guidance he provided me along the way. I don’t think I’d be where I am today with him believing in me and urging a professional colleague of his to give me a chance.
Sometimes when I try to explain my job at the Missouri Community College Association, people interpret my role as being the president of all twelve of Missouri’s community colleges, like the president of the UM System. But my job is nothing like that. My job is much more like being the executive director of any traditional nonprofit organizing.
I am truly passionate about public higher education, and I love that I get to support community college faculty and staff in their mission to deliver accessible and affordable higher education for all Missourians.
The airport expansion. To me the COU expansion is like the “Field of Dreams.” If we build it, they will come. An airport with more direct flights is good for the citizens of Columbia and also makes Columbia more attractive for economic development projects and tourists. The current destinations are excellent, but it’ll be great to see more flight options, new airlines, and additional destinations added to the COU offerings.
“The Loyal Customer: A Lesson from a Cab Driver.” This book tells the story of a cab driver and his realization that a satisfied customer might leave a good tip, but a loyal customer would result in repeat business and increased revenue over the long haul. This is a good lesson in building a customer base around a reliable product, and I’ve been able to use this lesson in every role I’ve had professionally.
I would create the best public transit system a city of our size has ever seen, complete with light rail, a walkable downtown, a bike share, and bike lanes in all parts of the city. I’d give anything to be able to leave my house on Forum and take the subway downtown to Addison’s to dinner, for example. And then hit up Silverball before heading back home on the train.
MCCA has a universe of 5,000 potential members. When I started, we had about 1,700 active members. I’ve set a goal to increase the number of members to 2,500 by the end of 2018. This not only increases our reach as an entity that provides professional development, but it also increases the revenue from annual memberships by nearly 50 percent.